After a century of remembering the lives of those lost in wars, are we doing enough to honour their memories and ensure the world is free from conflict?
I live in the UK and today is Remembrance Sunday, where the nation pays tribute to the lives lost in the two World wars and the many conflicts since. Surviving family members mourn beloved war heroes and the country pauses at 11am, every year, to stand behind the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice.
It is held on the annual anniversary of Armistice Day, when both sides of World War 1 agreed to end the war and is a tradition that brings the harsh realities of war to the forefront of most people’s minds.
War in the early 20th century was a battle between armies – enlisted men pitted against each other. Those with the largest numbers had the advantage but the deciding factor was almost always economical. The side with the most money could purchase the best weapons, recruit the smartest minds and ensure that it’s people were fed in the most desperate times.
Weapons have evolved to the point where manpower is secondary. In any conflict, we have been reduced to the enablers of our inventions.
War mongers have removed human bodies from the end of their puppet strings and replaced them with weapons that can literally end the world.
In many ways this is a good thing. It means, in most countries, we are unlikely to see our children called up to war against their will like the Conscription of previous generations. It means battlefields will not always be littered with the bodies of every day people actively fighting for the sake of politicians and heads of states. War nowadays is less bloody, perhaps, but just as horrible.
Decisions are made as part of the strategic balance between what a nation is willing to tolerate before it is forced to respond and the looming threat of any counter retaliation. The cold war between superpowers is an example of this; the tiny gap between doing nothing and unilateral destruction is a dangerous one for our leaders to continue to flirt with.
When the capabilities of opposing sides aren’t as closely matched, however, these rules go out of the window. Western nations have dominated conflicts for decades, with no fear of repercussions. Warfare continues to be pushed into new frontiers and, without a more sensible approach moving forward, the implications of war are only going to get worse.
Even as we refrain from nuclear options, it is clear that weapons do not have to do the most physical damage to have the biggest impact.
Terrorist attacks of the last few decades have proven that strategic attacks in the heart of population dense areas create fear and provoke huge responses even when the initial loss of human life is comparatively low.
Cyber attacks, as the imagined vehicle of destruction for our current times, are acts of war likely to have no direct death tolls or significant infrastructure damage. But when the power grid goes off, for example, or all the money disappears, the consequences will be dire.
An attack is often invisible, at least from the side of the instigator. Modern warfare is weaponised drones attacking villages in defenceless nations, or social media propaganda misdirecting the will of an entire country.
Death, destruction and dangerous times are not a thing of the past. It may look different but across the world, not enough has changed.
The UK is not the only country that remembers it’s fallen. All over the world, we commemorate those who bravely laid down their lives so that we could live. It is brilliant that we do not forget the sacrifice of our armed forces but for some reason we, collectively, continue to forget the lessons that are so clear after every conflict.
The best way to honour those who died protecting their country is to better protect the international community from warfare. It is disrespectful, frankly, for any nation to indiscriminately take lives anywhere in the world whilst daring to remember those who have died, more locally.
Beautiful and well-maintained war memorials detail the names of the lost. The same consideration should be taken for each and every life taken all over the world. To ignore or even gloss over the amount of innocent lives ended by war in any part of the world, is to guarantee we are never free from conflict.
There is no progress in simply changing the way we wage war. There is no accomplishment in the majority of the dead being on the other side of the world or in a conflict that doesn’t directly involve those who live in our own communities. It is arrogant for any nation to believe the security it currently has or the power it currently wields is permanent. For as long as war is
an option a constant, no human life is safe from it’s consequences.
Often, war is a battle between elected egos that does not serve the general population. Those at risk are almost never those making the decisions.
A customary two minute silence is 120 seconds of reflection on the past that is filled with respect, reverence and regret. It would be great if we could spend time concentrating on the value of human life, worldwide, and the steps needed to value them equally.
War should be the last resort, an emergency reaction to circumstances that cannot be resolved in any other way. If any person, particularly a civilian, dies as a result of international conflict it simply means we have failed. What is more important than keeping innocent people alive?
Any man or woman who has died during conflict would, surely, have had two wishes:
- That they didn’t die in vain; their sacrifice helped to create a better world
- That the generations after them would learn the lessons of the times and find ways to live more harmoniously without the pointless death of their descendants
When we remember those who died fighting for this, or any country, let us remember that honouring them is doing our utmost to distance ourselves from the type of world that meant they died in the first place. In doing so we will be doing right by those before us and those who come after us.